The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.
Director: John Woo
Writers: Mike Werb, Michael Colleary
Starring: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen
Running Time: 138 minutes
Going into Face/Off, I was hoping for a ridiculous, over-the-top action flick, and that’s exactly what I got. John Woo’s third American film is genius in that it sets up two of Hollywood’s craziest actors and lets both of them go off the rails.
Nicolas Cage is at his most deliriously best right from the get-go, playing a terrorist supervillain named Castor Troy. His archenemy is John Travolta’s Sean Archer, an FBI agent who is seeking revenge for the murder of his young son (killed by Troy, of course). Their first confrontation in the film depicts the age old battle of airplane vs. helicopter. Later, they fight on top of a speeding powerboat. The action scenes are signature Woo — stylish as all hell, and full of spectacular explosions.
What helps set Face/Off apart from other action films of the era is its utterly absurd plot. After Archer gets the better of Troy at the beginning of the film (putting him into a coma), he thinks he has finally got his revenge and his pursuit is over. That quickly changes once it is revealed that Castor’s brother, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola), has planted a bomb in Los Angeles, and Castor is the only other person who knows its location. In order to coax the location out of Pollux, Archer goes undercover with the help of an experimental face transplant surgery that changes his face, his voice and the rest of his body to perfectly match Castor’s.
As if that isn’t ludicrous enough, Castor wakes from his coma and adapts the face of Archer.
This transition essentially leads to Nicolas Cage and John Travolta swapping roles, giving both of them a chance to one-up and out-camp each other. Both guys bring a great deal of enthusiasm to their roles, especially when delivering some genuinely terrible dialogue (see: “I want to take his face…. off.” and “Sasha, what the fuck… are you doing here?“). Both men were the perfect selections for their characters.
The only time Face/Off lets its foot off the gas is when it peeks into the melodrama at home with Archer and his wife, Eve (Joan Allen). She is fed up with her husband’s endless chase of Castor, and they are constantly butting heads about this. These moments stand out as the weakest, and in a film already too long at over two hours, they could have probably been trimmed a bit.
Still, Face/Off revels in its overindulgence, and the overall product makes for one of the more entertaining action films to come out of the ’90s. As a bonus, if you’ve ever seen the “Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit” YouTube video and were craving more of him in top lunatic form, this is the movie for you.